High on a hill, Le Saint James Hotel in Bordeaux offers unique style, fantastic views, superb food and a cookery school as well.
We started calling it the ‘Le Saint James Bond’ moment, the moment after waking up that I pressed the button to raise the blind at the end of our bed.
With a cheerful whirr all four meters or so of blind would creep upward to slowly reveal a 180 degree view of Bordeaux spread out to the west below. The early light shining onto the taller buildings the cars with their headlights on, blue lights of emergency services silently and purposefully charging down the autoroutes. Magical.
The room, like all the rooms at the Le Saint James Hotel, is designed around the bed and the bed is designed around the view. Up here in the village of Bouliac, known unsurprisingly as the Balcony of Bordeaux, everyone gets a good view but lucky guests in their beds have the best view of all.
Above it all
Get closer to the panoramic window and look down and the hotel’s mini vineyard stretches away from the terrasse and the long elegant pool. The light all the while keeps changing, it’s like having like the world’s biggest TV and the sharpness is of course excellent.
If you don’t want glass to be between you and the view there’s the large flat decking area off to the side of the room. You can sit in the ‘’J’accuse zi’ ’, as our cheerful porter referred to it, and toast the dawn, or the sunsets which are magnificent and spellbinding, especially with a bottle of the hotel’s red wine, made from that vineyard below and with a limited production of just 500 bottles a year, close to hand.
This is a suite and there are Chambres de Luxe and what are called ’basic’ rooms ’which are anything but of course ; eighteen rooms in all and all with that amazing view
An architect’s dream
Le St James is certainly distinctive. Seen from down below it appears to be a collection of rusty tin sheds, which is pretty much how the architect of London’s One New Change, Jean Nouvel wanted it to appear when he created it in 1989. Actually his intention was to echo the old tobacco drying sheds of the area and the rust was deliberate and allowed to occur. The success of his vision means the hotel is now listed as part of France’s 20th-century architectural heritage by the Ministry of Culture.
The four pavilions lead off from an 18th century longere farmhouse that contains a gorgeous bar that overlooks the shady terrace and as you walk down the connecting corridor past whitewashed old stone walls, you get to see into the hotel kitchen through a slit window. Nouvel was keen the connections between art, architecture and food were always present in guests minds, although what the Harley Davidson in one suite signifies is anyone’s guess, male midlife crisis perhaps?
The kitchen is a significant part of the hotel because the restaurant is itself a very significant part of the hotel. St James has seen stellar chefs do time behind its pass and now Nicolas Magie is in charge.
Every supplier he uses, and all are local, is listed on the menu, an indication of how importantly he rates suppliers’ contribution to the restaurant. Great ingredients are crucial to him and you know the shellfish is fresh because it’s splashing about in a large tank at the rear of the kitchen.
You can read more about our experience in the Saint James Restaurant and the fabulous food and service in our separate review next week.
We came for the food and the view of course; slowly dragging our ancient Renault 4L over a hundred miles to finally place it in the shadow of swish luxury cars in the hotel’s car park, but also the cookery school, the Côté Cours. There are classes each day from kids’ classes to bistro style to learning to cook a little bit like M. Magie himself.
We chose the latter and at 09:30, torn away from breakfast in the glass walled restaurant, we assembled under the eye of Célia Girard the main kitchen’s Sous-Chef. The teaching kitchen is in the front courtyard so there’s no view to distract you, but then you only have eyes for Celia as she spells out the tasks you will undertake. The state of the art white work surfaces and the latest in ovens and hobs by Miele are the stuff of home chefs dreams, clinical perfection to prepare beautiful food efficiently.
We stand and watch, and peel and dice and sauté, and help Celia rescue her mixer from a cheeky kitchen chef who attempts to run off with it.
The lesson is in French but she speaks good English for those who need it and we try to learn while also eyeing the gorgeous garden outside, sun stroked even though it’s late October.
It’s not strenuous, it’s fun and we pick up lots of tips on the way. And we learn a little of what it’s like to stand for hours and end, it’s hard, very hard.
Lunch is served
We eat what we cooked out in the garden and it is delicious, Some foie gras in a broth of wild mushrooms, sea bass with shellfish and many more delights.
We watch elegant Bordeaux people turn up for lunch on the terrace, surely the best place in Bordeaux to have lunch. Across the road, the hotel’s second restaurant the Cafe de l’Esperance, serves simple grills in a classic interior. We look in, we’re not hungry but the sight is enough to make us.
With the suitcases back in the Renault 4L, the staff treated us just as if it had been a Mercedes their friendliness totally genuine, we rolled back down the hill and out of Bordeaux. We should perhaps have come in an Aston Martin DB5 , but nonetheless we’d still had a very good adventure.
LE SAINT JAMES BOULIAC
Hôtel Relais & Châteaux
3 place Camille Hostein
F. +33 (0)5 56 20 92 58
Find out more about the cookery school
For all stays between Sunday and Thursday this November 2014, Le Saint-James is offering the following:
– For a one night stay: a bottle of champagne in the room on arrival
– For a two night stay: a visit (transfers not included) with wine tasting to a Chateau in Saint-Émilion
– For a three night stay: free transfers to and from the airport
The three special mid-week offers can be used together, so a person staying for three nights would receive all of the above.